Affirmation, were it needed, of just how far and how rapidly women’s cycling is advancing in this country could be found on Sunday with the inaugural Womens Cicle Classic.
The men’s event has been a staple on the domestic calendar for over a decade now and attracts competitors from both the domestic scene and abroad. It continues to grow in prestige and thanks to the efforts of organiser Colin Clews and others has now secured television coverage which will further broaden its appeal to fan and sponsor alike.
The Cicle Classic has been likened to Paris Roubaix and, probably more accurately, Italys Strade Bianche insomuch as it is run over a parcours not wholly of metalled roads. It uses many of Leicestershires farm tracks and bridleways to produce an event unique on the British Road calendar and manages to set a challenge that no amount of experience is guaranteed to overcome
Logic thus dictated that with the ever growing profile of womens racing a Womens Cicle Classic had to be born. The Lincoln GP has done it to great effect now it was Cicle Classics turn.
And so it was that a large and strong field of some of the foremost names in UK womens cycling gathered in Melton Mowbray to tackle the 95km course. The weather was untypically seasonal , perhaps a little too warm for the challenge ahead as the race got underway.
Now as regular readers of this blog will be aware I am a champion for Sunsport Velo WRT and followed this event with a main focus on them. This was a big race for all of the teams and Sunsport had a strong squad with a determination to make their mark.
I met up with the team as they were setting up at race HQ and the mood was relaxed considering what was ahead of them. The four riders, Jane Hellewell, Maddy Scott, Alice Sharpe and Sophie Thackray have different strengths and characteristics but gel nicely as a unit. Manager Tony Orrell provides a calm and steady influence which seems to hit the right note with the girls-they are a young and inexperienced team so need a particular style of management to get the best from them.
As the race got underway from Melton town centre at noon I drove over to the village of Owston. Having worked on several editions of the men’s race I knew that this was a prime spot for getting the right shots. A reasonable sized crowd had gathered in the village and were being suitably informed and entertained by on course commentator Carl Lawrenson, a veteran of this kind of event.
As the race came through Manor Farm for the first time it was clear that an early selection had taken place and the field was split into about four reasonable sized groups. Alice and Sophie were in the second group who were a handful of seconds behind the leaders. They were followed by a third group containing Maddie. Jane was finding the going tough, as were several others, and was hovering precariously close to the broom wagon as they emerged from Duvel Corner and into Owston village.
As they came through Duvel Corner on the next lap (and from the opposite direction) more fragmentation had taken place. Sophie was still within touching distance of the leaders but Alice had dropped slightly more behind. This was proving to be a real grueller. Maddie was further back and Jane, having disappeared, had presumably been chewed up by the broom wagon.
My final sight of the bunch was on the Hot Spot Sprint out of the village and I then headed for the finish back in Melton.
Over in Melton and news came through of a traffic accident on the course resulting in a detour for the latter part of the race. Arriving later than anticipated a much depleted field made its way through the town centre and onto the final lap. At this stage there were no Sunsport riders and it looked like they had all dropped out, along with 90% of the field. Fears were allayed however at the finish.Coming home first and collecting the £1000 winners prize was Rebecca Durrell for the all conquering Drops Cycling Team. She just beat Elizabeth Holden from Ford Ecoboost in a sprint to the line.
Shortly afterwards as the field rolled in Alice emerged in a very creditable 12th place. She suffered a puncture around half way which put paid to her challenge but still managed a smile. Its testament to a successful first season as a roadie that there was still a tinge of disappointment as to what might have been.
A couple of minutes later Sophie crossed the line for an excellent 17th place. She is still a junior (albeit one of the best) and to mix it at this level on this course was incredible.
“It was a tough course with lots of tight sections meaning that positioning was key from the start, but I managed to stay high up and get a good position so I could stay with the leaders for the first 60km. After this I dropped off and was met by a group of 6 with Alice in and so we battled to the finish from there. It was an incredibly hot day which made conditions even tougher, but I really enjoyed it!!” Sophie Thackray
With two of the four woman team crossing the line within minutes of the winner this was a good solid performance from Sunsport. Again they mixed it with some quality athletes on what is possibly one of the hardest women’s races on the calendar (and I mean internationally also )
‘It was great to be a part of the first women’s Cicle Classic. Although it was such a tough course, it was a new challenge with the gravel sectors, which made a nice change to the usual road races. For me it wasn’t my day, but I was chuffed for my team mates and it was a great experience’ Maddie Scott
As for the race in general it was a real triumph. The experienced organisation of Colin Clews and his team and the generosity of sponsor Peter Stanton has resulted in an instant classic on the women’s calendar. It needs time to grow to attract the same quality of field as the men’s and the same level of support that they get on the route but Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will definitely get there.
Coming Up This Weekend. “Women’s Cicle Classic-A Story in Pictures”